Jayanta Talukdar talks about the time in his career when, apart from those around him, almost everyone stopped believing in him. At first, he says, it was “mentally disturbing.” This led to a crisis of confidence, which fueled doubt and insecurity. “And then I thought, should I just give up?”

It was almost three years ago, when the veteran archer was no longer in the national team. Talukdar has been around long enough to understand the vagaries of sport and an athlete’s constant struggle with form – either to find it when you hit a bad patch or to maintain it when things are going well.

He had spent most of the previous decade doing the first. Talukdar tried almost everything in his power to stop his slide. But the setbacks follow one another: the impossibility of being part of the team for the 2014 Asian Games, the failure to qualify for the Rio Olympics, the impossibility of integrating the team for the World Cups in from 2017 and finally, in 2019, the loss of his place in the Indian team.

Jayanta Talukdar (express photo file)

Giving up, at that time, must have been an easy and tempting option. Despite the difficulties, Talukdar still had a career he could have been proud of, having won medals at World Championships, World Cups and Asian Championships, competing in the Olympics and being a dominant force on the national circuit for years.

Call it a sportsman’s pride, the sheer will to prove his opponents wrong or the burning desire to play for the country again, but Talukdar didn’t want to bow out when his career had hit rock bottom. “Deep down, I knew I still had it in me,” he says.

His instinct was not wrong.

Last weekend, Talukdar returned to the national team by finishing in the top three in the trials held at Sonepat. And after almost three years of no international competition, his 2022 calendar suddenly looks packed. For the first time after five years, Talukdar will participate in the World Cup, and in September he will return to the Asian Games after 12 years.

“After such a long break, coming back to the Indian team is not easy,” he said.

Returns have been rare in Indian archery, whether by an archer who has been sidelined or from the shooting line in important international matches.

Changing of the guard?

Talukdar is aware of the ruthlessness of this sport in which the margin of error is very narrow. “You need to maintain a minimum score of 29 (out of 30) to stay in contention and sometimes even that isn’t enough,” the 36-year-old explains. “Shooting a 10 with each of the three arrows at a distance of 70m… the wind plays a role; technique and timing matter… it’s not easy.

Indian archers would know. Few sports have, over the past decade, generated so much hype but delivered so little at big events like archery. In this context, the result of the selection tests is eye-catching, especially because of the return of Talukdar.

As much as the return of the old guard, it also signals a change, led by young archers like 17-year-old national champion Ridhi Phor and two-time world youth champion Komalika Bari. At the same time, some of the established stars, who have consistently underperformed at major championships, have been rocked by their complacency and, at least for the time being, have fallen out of favor with the national team.

Jayanta Talukdar And after almost three years of no international competition, his 2022 calendar suddenly looks packed. (Photo: Jayanta Talukdar FB)

The biggest victims are Atanu Das and Deepika Kumari, India’s top recurve archers. They finished outside the top four and as a result will not be competing in any of the major events this year. Even their funding under the government’s Target Olympic Podium program has been cut off. “We have nothing left for the rest of the year,” world number 2 Deepika, who has been a national team regular since 2010, told PTI. “Pura saal chhutti ho gaya hai (we were left aside all year).”

It’s the kind of jolt that could lead to extreme results – former internationals Rahul Banerjee and Mangal Singh Champia, Talukdar points out, got lost during a similar rotation a few years ago and are nowhere to be seen. anvil now. Then there is Talukdar himself, determined not to suffer the same fate as his two former teammates.

When he lost his place in the team, Talukdar, after nearly two decades of international competition, reinvented himself: introducing sweeping changes to his style and technique that might be invisible to the untrained eye. but which had a gradual impact on his game.

Reinvent technology

It started with reuniting with his former coach, Lim Chae Woong. The South Korean had been coaching Talukdar since 2003 but in 2014-15 he returned to his home country. Coincidentally, this also marked the start of Talukdar’s slide. Desperate to make amends, Talukdar called him back to Jamshedpur, his training base, towards the end of 2019. “I was blind to my mistakes but Lim was able to spot them clearly,” Talukdar says. “So step by step we started working on it.”

He started, he adds, by lowering the angle of his left shoulder to reduce his stiffness and achieve an upright posture while letting go of the arrow. Corresponding changes were then made to the muscles of the right shoulder, which had to be relaxed to ensure a smooth release. The next step was to fine tune the anchor position – that moment just before the shot where the arrow and string are brought closer to the jaw, neck and chin for better aiming.

“And finally, I completely changed the style of shooting the bow. Normally I used to shoot it up and down. Now I keep a right angle. This is to make sure that there is a balance in my shoulders, again, to aim better,” he explains.

Just when he was gaining confidence with his new technique, Talukdar was down with Covid-19 during the second wave last year, with symptoms so severe he had to be admitted to intensive care. When he returned, the effect was so damaging that he didn’t even have the strength to raise his bow.

“My weight had dropped significantly – from 44 pounds to 30 pounds. It took me about 4-5 months to get back to my old pound,” he says.

As well as physical, it also had a mental impact on him: months before he contracted the virus, Talukdar had suffered a torn tendon in his left shoulder. He was still in rehab when he caught Covid and once he recovered from the virus and started practicing again, the pain in his left shoulder also resurfaced.

“All the technical stuff I was working on…I had to restart. There was no point working on technique while I was working with a low power bow. At that time I was working on my technique, increasing my weight to pre-Covid levels, in rehab…so much was going on.

He endured all of this, which also helped him become stronger mentally.

Indian archers have often proven to lack the psychological strength to cope with the pressure of shooting in critical situations. Talukdar agrees with the diagnosis but feels that without solid strength and technique, mentality doesn’t mean much.

“If I have the power to hold a 44-pound bow without shaking it while aiming, then I can work on technique. But if I don’t have power and my technique isn’t good, no matter how hard I work mentally, I won’t be successful,” he says.

So once he regained his strength and almost reinvented his technique, Talukdar focused on the psychological end of things. “I increased the number of arrows I shot each day; around 200-250 to 400. As you spend more hours playing, you become mentally stronger and feel more confident. So that helped.

He started relying more on visualization, a technique that athletes in all sports swear by. But in the end, it came down to inner belief, he says.

“I feel confident. Previously, when I went to the selections, I kept my passport at home. This time I was sure that I would make it so I took it with me,” he laughs.

Soon he will wear the stamps of Turkey, South Korea, France and Colombia, the four countries that will host the World Cup series. “It’s been five years since I took part in a World Cup,” he said, enthusiasm in his voice. “Very few people would have expected me to make this comeback, very few.”